Power Poetry Begins in To Be Heard

Posted on January 3, 2012

Flagged as “one of the best documentaries of the year,” by The New York Times, To Be Heard is a look at a unique poetry class in the Bronx for at-risk youth where anything can be said or shared.  The film (airing on public television starting in January) focuses on three subjects — Pearl Quick, Anthony Pittman, and Karina Sanchez — weaving their deeply personal stories with their writing and performances. ITVS’s Kate Sullivan Green had the opportunity to talk with Pearl Quick about Quick's experience of growing up in the Bronx and finding her voice through the Power Writers program.


How did you find out about the Power Writers program?

PEARL QUICK: In 2001, when I was a freshman, they sent around a paper asking everybody what you want as an extracurricular activity and I chose poetry because there wasn’t anything else on the paper that was interesting to me.  I had been writing for a long time and wanted to transfer myself into a space where I could use poetry as a way to get on a stage and do some performing.  I was one of the original 11 that started in the class and did it the entire time I was in high school, and even two years after as a co-teacher. 

Where do you think you would be right now without power writers? 

PQ: In 2001, before I started power writing, I was practically mute. I was so shy. I had a story to tell but it’s hard to open up to people, especially where I come from and especially when you have the kind of education where you read from a book and take tests and are never asked how you are doing. So I got used to being quiet.  I had to help take care of my siblings and really needed someone to allow me to be a child.

Power writing gave me a family. It gave me a place I could open my mouth and say what I wanted without fear of criticism that’s not productive. I was given a safe space to speak with conviction and power and have confidence and always feel as if anything is possible. Without power writing, I would not have done half the things I have done. 

Do you keep in touch with the other main subjects of the film, Karina and Anthony? And how about your teachers, Roland and Amy? 

PQ: Amy is a big part of my heart. Period! She gave me the greatest gift a 14 year old from the Bronx could have gotten: the ability to be a kid and figure out who I was, what I wanted, and what I deserved. She was a strong figure of understanding, love, guidance — and it was constant love, support and realness. I love her for giving me all of who she was, right when I needed something/someone who was an adult to believe in and love! She saved my life at a time where fragility was my everyday existence. And Roland is like my father. He calls me everyday and asks me what I’m doing. I can’t imagine anytime without either of them. I go to them when I need something, or just need to talk. We can’t get rid of each other even if we tried. Karina and Anthony are home in the Bronx. Karina has a baby, and Amy and I are actually both godmothers. Anthony also has a child and at this moment is working as a tattoo artist, which is cool. They are pulling it together and I have a lot of faith in them. I want them to go back to school. Education is forever, while jobs come and go. So for the both of them I hope they can take one step past their circumstance and their fears and see it isn’t as scary as they think. 

What do you hope to do after you graduate? 

PQ: I definitely want to go to grad school. That’s a given. I also want to get my PhD. Then, I definitely want to start my girls program. I want it to be a small, self-sustainable program for young women of color in the Bronx. I want to build up strong women so they can build up themselves in their own neighborhoods where they need it. I want them to have a program that is geared towards them and uplifts them. I also want to write a memoir about my struggles with weight.

Do you have any advice for teenagers back home who are thinking about doing power poetry or any other creative outlet like that? 

PQ: You have to find a safe space and stick with it. Roland always says it takes 1,000 little steps to get to where you need to be. So if you want to find your voice, you have to be OK with 1,000 little steps. It doesn’t happen over night but it does happen if you fight for it. Creative outlets should be a requirement in everyone’s life. It’s a moment where who you can really shine and you can say whatever you want to say. 

To Be Heard is airing on public television starting in January. Check local listings. Find out more about the film’s online companion, and the world’s first mobile poetry community for youthPower Poetry, here

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